Black and white image of children playing in the fence at the US-Mexico border.

Trauma at the Border: Can Neuroscience Inform Legal Advocacy?

This week the House Judiciary Committee begins its formal inquiries into the Trump Administration’s separation of children from their families as part of a “zero tolerance” immigration policy in 2018.

The policy of family separation was curtailed after public outcry, but the trauma remains. Experts in developmental neuroscience have explained that the trauma of separation has likely produced long-term toxic effects on the brains of these young people.

Moreover, the trauma of separation is only one of many stressors affecting the lives of those seeking refuge and asylum. Children who witness intense violence and flee war-ravaged lands are at greater risk of psychological harm. Children at the U.S. border encounter even more trauma when they enter an immigration system where the Supreme Court has recently held that they can be detained indefinitely. Read More

The bottom half of a robotic face, featuring nose and mouth in blue lighting

Sex Robots are Here, But Can the Law Keep Up The With Ethics and Privacy Issues?

The robots are here. Are the “sexbots” close behind?

From the Drudge Report to The New York Times, sex robots are rapidly becoming a part of the national conversation about the future of sex and relationships. Behind the headlines, a number of companies are currently developing robots designed to provide humans with companionship and sexual pleasure – with a few already on the market.

Unlike sex toys and dolls, which are typically sold in off-the-radar shops and hidden in closets, sexbots may become mainstream. A 2017 survey suggested almost half of Americans think that having sex with robots will become a common practice within 50 years.

As a scholar of artificial intelligence, neuroscience and the law, I’m interested in the legal and policy questions that sex robots pose. How do we ensure they are safe? How will intimacy with a sex robot affect the human brain? Would sex with a childlike robot be ethical? And what exactly is a sexbot anyway? Read More

You can love the brain and football, too

Check out the new op-ed from Francis X. Shen, Senior Fellow in Law and Neuroscience at the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behaviorat Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

From the op-ed:

As final preparations are made for the Super Bowl Sunday, traditional excitement for the game is being countered by criticism about player safety.

In both Illinois and New York, for instance, legislators have proposed banning youth tackle football. Football legend Brett Favre has made headlines telling reporters he prefers his grandchildren play golf instead of football.

Typical criticism of youth football points out that given advances in our knowledge about the brain, it is dangerous to let your kids play football, and unethical to enjoy watching such a barbaric sport.

As a professor whose research is devoted to the intersection of neuroscience and law, I have often found myself at the heart of these football debates. I have testified multiple times in front of the state Legislature, and teach a seminar devoted entirely to “sports concussions and the law.”

Given this background, I often get surprised looks when I defend the value of collision sports. Some find it hard to reconcile my love of the brain with a policy stance that they think promotes brain damage. But I think you can embrace neuroscience and the NFL.

Read more here!

Dementia And The Law: P/Review 2017–18

This new post by Francis X. Shen appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

Another year, another failed Alzheimer’s drug trial. In what is becoming routine news, in 2017, another Alzheimer’s drug failed in clinical trial, leading to the apt headline: “The List of Failed Alzheimer’s Drug Treatments Keeps Growing.” Moreover, there seem to be few evidence-based options even to limit cognitive decline. Research continues of course, and there remain multiple—and potentially promising—pharmacological interventions in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pipeline.

One of the reasons that successful drugs have been elusive is scientists are still trying to figure out the exact underlying neurobiology of Alzheimer’s. The past year saw the publication of a major scientific study showing that in mice, the gene variant ApoE4 (which is linked to a much higher risk for Alzheimer’s) affects both β-amyloid and tau buildup in the brain. The study’s implication of tau was important because the scientific community has been debating the “amyloid hypothesis,” whether the field’s sometimes singular focus on β-amyloid buildup was misguided. This debate is so intense that in 2017 it even made its way to the pages of The Atlantic. […]

Read the full post here!